When the Parent Becomes the Judge

Parents spend a lot of time helping children work through disagreements. Children can be trained to settle many of their own disagreements, but they will need help in learning this process, and some situations clearly require parental involvement and disciplining.

It’s easy to become annoyed or discouraged with what feels like endless striving. It is tempting to ignore or downplay bickering, or to respond to it in a sinful manner. Instead, we must remember that disagreements are training opportunities:

  • Every time we seek to unravel the details of a quarrel or offense and follow up with discipline, we are investing in the character of our children and helping them conform more fully to the image of Christ.
  • When we take the time to listen and deal justly with offending and offended children, we are painting for our children a picture of God’s loving but just character.
  • When we carefully apply the truths of Scripture to specific discipline situations, we are pointing our children to God’s Word as the ultimate authority in their lives.

Helping settle household disagreements requires great patience and wisdom. We must be in constant prayer, like Solomon, who prayed, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may  discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9a, ESV).

We need to take time to listen before we assume we understand a situation. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” When we interrupt or jump to conclusions, we may make an unjust decision. We are also setting an example that will encourage our children to interrupt and misjudge us, and to assume that they already know what we are going to say when we speak to them.

We need to listen carefully to both sides, and question witnesses if necessary. Proverbs 18:17 reminds us that, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Again, it is easy to arrive at wrong conclusions, if we only hear one side of the argument. Matthew Henry, in commenting on this verse, says, “We must therefore remember that we have two ears, to hear both sides before we give judgment.”

We need to apply biblical principles when disciplining. Once the offender is identified, he will need to be disciplined. Quite often, when everything comes to light, both parties have sinned, and both will need instruction and discipline. At other times, the child who has been accused of wrongdoing may be proven innocent. When the accuser has intentionally misrepresented the situation, he should be disciplined for his false report.

Deuteronomy 19:16-20 offers clear instructions for dealing with a false witness. “If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.”

This requires a parent’s discernment. A child may not maliciously misrepresent a situation, but may simply be immature or confused. He may need some instruction. But the child who runs to mama, falsely accusing another of wronging him, may need to experience biblical consequences for his actions. This, based on Deuteronomy 19, will mean disciplining him in the way we would have disciplined the accused child, if he had been proven guilty.

If the accused child would have received a spanking, the false accuser should receive that spanking. If the accused child would have lost a privilege, the false accuser should lose a privilege. This will quickly discourage false reports, and the Deuteronomy passage points out that others will watch and learn as well.

More on this subject next week!

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